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State Officials Are Now Monitoring Pine Island Arsenic Contamination

Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve in Saint James City.
Jessica Meszaros
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

High arsenic levels on Pine Island prompted the state to get involved in Lee County's cleanup process. That came out of the most recent County Conservation 20/20 Committeemeeting last week.  

The committee buys and manages preserved lands throughout Lee County. High levels of arsenic are detected on one of their properties right now: Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve in Saint James City. Recent groundwater tests show the arsenic reaching as high as 30 times over the federal limit.

Now the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to the 20/20 Committee requesting a sit-down meeting to discuss the group's plans for monitoring and possibly removing the arsenic. The agency also wants the committee to do a site assessment based on the Florida Administrative Code. CathyOlson is the conservation lands manager.

"We will be presenting our ideas of further monitoring to them and they'll let us know whether they agree with that methodology, or not," says Olson.

Below is the letter the FDEP sent to Conservation 20/20:


Two people spoke about this issue during the public comment period Thursday. 

"There's another problem besides the arsenic... the low pH levels," says Pine Island resident Scott Wilkinson. He's watching this issue closely. When he says low pH levels are a problem, he means the water is more acidic than is allowed.

Meredith Barnard with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida also addressed committee members.

"We would like to see the Conservation 20/20 funds reimbursed for the money already spent on monitoring and that those responsible for the elevated arsenic levels to be paying for the ongoing monitoring moving forward," says Barnard.

Some Conservation 20/20 members are asking for Lee County Utilities to pay for the roughly $68,000 it will take to properly monitor the groundwater. Utilities oversees Pine Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which had a state permit to spray its treated wastewater onto Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve. Some committee members believe this is where the contamination came from, but committee head Cathy Olson says Lee County does not want to make another department pay for it because...

"We don't know that it's their fault," she says. "And what our position is right now is we're trying to get to the bottom of it and deal with what we have and not worry about which pot the money comes out. We're just trying to figure out what the problem is, how to address it and how to fix it, if we need to fix it."

But some committee members say they're worried about depleting the conservation funds.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.